Monday, March 4, 2013

Does going green change the face of design or only its content?

Aesthetic attraction isn’t a superficial concern - it’s an environmental imperative. We spoke of Lance Hosey's book The Shape of Green in the last post. We decided to share more from this book which we think is true for our profession. Let us understand why beauty is inherent to sustainability, for how things look and feel is as important as how they’re made. 

In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan shows that domesticated plants and animals have thrived because they have an important survival advantage over their competitors in the wild: we like them. Pollan writes: “Human desires form a part of natural history in the same way the hummingbird’s love of red does, or the ant’s taste for the aphid’s honeydew. I think of them as the human equivalent of nectar.” The fate of many things depends on whether they please people. Wolves might seem heartier than dogs, but there are 50 million dogs in the world and only ten thousand wolves. Which has adapted better? This view of nature may give you pause - should other species exist just to please us? But as a principle for design, it is essential. If you want something to last, make it as lovable as a Labrador.

Studies show, we form positive associations with things we consider beautiful, we are more likely to become emotionally attached, giving them pet names, for instance. We personalize things we care about. Experiments in interaction design also reveal that people generally consider attractive products more functional than they do unsightly ones and therefore are more apt to use them. We prefer using things that look better, even if they aren’t inherently easier to use. Consider the ramifications - if an object is more likely to be used, it’s more likely to continue being used. Who throws out a thing they find functional, beautiful, and valuable all at once? A more attractive design discourages us from abandoning it: if we want it, we won’t waste it.

The Shape of Green is a beautiful book that designers and also design lovers will turn to time and again. Author Lance Hosey explores the critically important but too rarely discussed dimensions of this goal elegance, joy, and beauty. The book has ability to inspire hope in the most pessimistic readers.

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